Monday, January 28, 2008

No Country for Old Men

... is a great movie. I think the Coen Brothers are great moviemakers. They have made very few bad ones. I can see echoes of their previous movies in this one, especially those set in the southwest.

There are serious religious themes here.

A hunter finds a bunch of dead guys and a lone survivor of a bad drug deal. The survivor asks for water. The hunter ignores him and goes after the money. If he had left it at that, he might have gotten away with the money. But conscience comes to him in the night, and he goes back with a jug of water - the very model of Christian service. When his wife asks him why he is going out in the middle of the night, he answers: "to do something stupid."

As a result, a relentless, but strangely rational killer tracks him, leaving a very bloody trail. And a soul-tired old sheriff, a Tommy Lee Jones character played by Tommy Lee Jones, understands what is going on, and tracks the killer. At one point he tells another cop that he thinks the killer is not a lunatic, but a ghost.

The killer vs. hunter plot is the gripping foreground tale. Ultimately, though, the sheriff is the protagonist, and the real story is how he wrestles with his own conscience and principles. I think the keystone scene comes late, when the sheriff is talking to an old lawman, crippled by a villain years before. Tommy Lee Jones says "I thought when I got older, God would somehow come into my life. But He didn't."

I will not say more about what follows. The ending is ambiguous. It is designed to leave open the question of how the main story ends. I believe the Coen Brothers deliberately left open the question of whether God did, does, or will come to the old sheriff -- and whether justice will be done.

I think so.

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